Social Question

Demosthenes's avatar

Why are false accusations of rape such compelling stories?

Asked by Demosthenes (13563points) October 25th, 2020

I recently read a detailed account of the Duke lacrosse case and another article that connected it with the birth of the alt-right. The UVA Rolling Stone “A Rape on Campus” story also similarly captivated the nation. The account mentioned the smug glee of the right-wing media when the Duke lacrosse case turned out to be false, as well as the refusal of the left to admit the accusations are entirely false (William Cohan and Jia Tolentino’s insistence that something happened in re. to Duke lacrosse and UVA respectively).

What is it about false accusations of rape that get so much attention? Why do the reactions divide so cleanly along ideological lines?

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12 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

Probably because it’s a very simple thing for a woman to claim.

janbb's avatar

@Dutchess_III But it’s a seemingly hard thing for a woman to prove.

As for the question, I have no answer.

Dutchess_III's avatar

That’s because most rapes occur privately. No witnesses.

Jeruba's avatar

I think it’s also that most people don’t want to take a chance on discrediting someone who really did suffer a trauma like that. You want to err on the side of believing them, even if there’s some cause to doubt.

At the same time, you don’t want to falsely accuse someone of something terrible. That’s the other side of it.

I’ve had three women tell me about having been raped. I believed two of them. But I offered a listening ear, comfort, and support to all three. I think anyone who makes such a claim probably needs something pretty badly, whether the claim is true or false.

As for ideological divides, I have no idea.

kritiper's avatar

Because of the holes in the stories told and the incredible tales that are told of what supposedly happened.

Mimishu1995's avatar

I agree with @Dutchess_III and @Jeruba. I also think that this is the lingering result of the #metoo movement. The movement gave people who were previously hiding in the dark a voice. And sure enough, rape stories strike a chord in those people’s hearts. Those people are now free to be vocal about rape stories and they are quick to side with the victims. They are also supported by society as the result of the movement. So when the accusation turned out to be false, it’s like a rug being pulled under people’s leg, like a plot twist. That added even more attention to the story, as well as some cognitive dissonance among some people. This was also the opportunity for the other people who are just tired of the extremists of the movement to speak out, and I think that’s probably be the reason why the reactions are so divided.

I’m not an American, but I’m speaking as an observant of a similar movement in my country. And in fact, there has been a false rape accusation that also caught people’s attention on the Internet. So there was this father who frantically asked for help with his daughter’s rape case on the Internet because according to him, the authority “didn’t want anything to do with it”. He provided photo evidence an a video showing the girl screaming in pain with wounds all over her body. According to his story, he got involved with some bad people while trying to earn money for the girl’s schooling, and now the people were getting back at him by physically and sexually abusing the girl. The story quickly caught the Internet by storm, and people tried hard to pass the original post around as much as possible so that it would cause enough pressure for the authority to do something. Some people even managed to track down a woman believed to be the mastermind of the crime and spammed her Facebook with insults to eternity. It didn’t help that people started passing sob stories about how the father went through a tragic divorce and how nice the girl was, which further added fuel to the fire.

Then some time later people found out that the entire story was fabricated and they were going around insulting the wrong people all along. And unlike when it was first started, the story quietly died down. There was no apology to the wrongly accused and no one fiercely went after the father like they did with the woman. The last I heard about that story was a passing comment asking how the girl in the video was so convincing. I can see that there is a level of denial among the people, just like with your story. The attitude wasn’t exactly divided, but the story did capture a lot of attention, and it fascinated people so much that they went a great length to dig around for as much information as possible, even fake sob stories.

I’m glad the story never got further away from the Internet though. Things could have been a lot worse for the wrongly accused if it had.

zenvelo's avatar

You make a generalization out of a specific instance.

The Duke Lacrosse story wasn’t so much about sexual assault as it was about a major magazine writing about young white male privilege. Unlike similar stories that run about football and basketball teams, this one was about rich white kids being protected by the University.

The UVA story sounds right. A sexual assault in a fraternity? Even the members of the fraternity would believe that.

Attributing these stories to the genesis of the alt right is purely conjecture and deflects from the true genesis which is the latent racism in parts of the US and the reaction to Obama being inaugurated.

Jeruba's avatar

There’s also the point that if the accusation is false (as you stipulated in your Q), that leaves lots of room for making the story compelling with vivid details, drama, and aftermath; as opposed to a boring old conventional rape with the victim sticking to the truth, but with some details forgotten or blocked out, such as where the party was and who else was there.

seawulf575's avatar

I find the reactions to be very split along ideological lines. Take a look at the claims against Trump for instance. Everyone wants to claim he sexually assaulted young girls because he used to know Jeffrey Epstein. Those on the left wanted him to hang for the accusations, those on the right don’t see the relevance since he wasn’t a frequent flyer and there is nothing but innuendo. Yet Bill Clinton had many, many instances of riding on the private jet and vacationing on the island estate. Those on the right wouldn’t mind seeing an investigation into that, but those on the left just want to change the topic when it is brought up. It isn’t the act of rape anymore that is the focus. If asked a random sampling of people if they thought rape was wrong and should be punished, probably 100% would probably say yes. But when you tie it to politics or some other sacred cow topic, it stops being about the rape.

zenvelo's avatar

^^^ @seawulf575 I don’t see this as ideological at all, despite the OP’s attempt to make it into the reason behind the alt right.

There are plenty of us who voted for Bill Clinton and later for Hillary that would like the full story of Bill’s excursions with Epstein, along with Trump and Prince Andrew, Alexander Acosta, and Larry Summers and Alan Dershowitz, all buddies with Epstein.

People don’t accuse Trump of sexual assault because of hanging out with Epstein; they claim it because he assaulted them and bragged about it in the infamous Access Hollywood tape, and his wandering backstage at Miss Universe to fondle the contestants.

It isn’t about politics, it IS about white male privilege and getting away with rape.

Demosthenes's avatar

The article that linked the Duke lacrosse case to the birth of the alt-right was only one way in which I perceived politicization. It was also the way that the left seemed to really hope the accusations were true and the right seemed to really hope the accusations were false. It seemed yet another issue where the divide was political, especially in regard to how the left-wing and right-wing media treated the cases (during and after it was revealed the accusations were false).

seawulf575's avatar

@zenvelo It isn’t about white male privilege and getting away with rape. As I said, if you asked a generic question about whether rapists should be punished or if they should even be investigated at all, you’d get probably 100% responses that rapists are worse than foot fungus and need to be strung up by their balls. It doesn’t matter if it is a white guy, a black guy, or anything in between. But as soon as you put names to the cases, it suddenly becomes very polarized and falls along ideological lines. Take a look at your own answer for a perfect example. “There are plenty of us who voted for Bill Clinton and later for Hillary that would like the full story of Bill’s excursions with Epstein, along with Trump and Prince Andrew, Alexander Acosta, and Larry Summers and Alan Dershowitz, all buddies with Epstein.” But did you actually call out for Clinton to be investigated? You went on to come up with all sorts of claims about Trump. But what about Tara Reid? Or Juanita Broadrick? Or Kathleen Wiley? These are all women that claim to have been attacked by Democrat leaders. See the ideological slant to your answer? It isn’t just that someone claimed to have been attacked, it is who attacked them. Shoot, Kavanaugh was accused, complete with the entire dog and pony show, of attacking a girl from 30 years ago. The left was all over it and was sure he was a rapist. They said as much. YOU said as much. But what about Joe Biden? Tara Reid made a complaint when it happened and it was buried. She came forward this year and the left has buried the story again. What makes her claim any less credible or sensational than Christine Blasey-Ford’s? The only difference is the ideology.

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